SPORTSMANSHIP: Are HS Basketball Routs Inevitable?

It’s that time of the year when HS basketball games sometimes turn into lopsided affairs, and each year I wonder why coaches and refs allow this to happen.

I mean, if you’ve been around the sport of basketball, it doesn’t take a great deal of expertise to see when the score of a HS game is quickly becoming out of control.

The first notable one this season occurred in Montana, where a girls’ varsity team defeated another school by the score of 102-to-zero.

That’s right. It was a total shutout.

Final score: Froid Medicine Lake HS 102….Brockton HS 0.

The backstory is that the losing team had a number of its starters who were ill and couldn’t play in the game. In fact, as the game began, Brockton was down to only 5 healthy kids – an eighth-grader, three freshman and a soph – and the tallest of them was 5-7. And then, early in the second half, one of their girls suffered a knee injury and couldn’t continue and so they played the rest of the game with only four girls.

In contrast, the winning team was at full strength, and had three starters who were at least 6 feet tall.

At the half, it was 59-0.

Yes, they had a running clock in the second half, but remember, it was five against four. Four girls who were inexperienced, shorter, and outmatched. I don’t know if the winning team tried to slow the game down, although I tend to doubt it if they scored 102 points. You gotta hustle to score that many points in a HS tilt.

ADULT SUPERVISION?

You would have thought that perhaps the two opposing coaches and refs would have met at half-time and discussed what to do in the second half to prevent this kind of lopsided event. Here are some things they might have considered:

0 Maybe just declare the game a win for the winning team, and play the second half as a kind of scrimmage.

0 Imagine how the victorious coach would have felt if one of his top players had been injured in this game. That is, suppose a girl had injured her ACL and was lost for the rest of the season — and got hurt where her team was up by 70 or 80 points?

0 Or, since the losing team played with only four girls for most of the second half, how about if the winning team decided to play with only four as well?

0 Finally — and this seems like the reasonable and obvious solution — if so many of the kids on the losing team were sick, why not just reschedule the game for a later date? Who wants to play in a game that’s truly non-competitive?

Look, these kinds of things do happen. I don’t see any reason why coaches and refs can’t get together and – like true adults and educators – figure out a way to handle these kinds of potentially embarrassing situations.

Unfortunately, we’re still in the beginning of the HS basketball season, and invariably another one of these lopsided routs will happen again.

Coach, refs, and AD’s: I ask you – there has to be a better way to proactively prevent these kinds of games from taking place.

DOING THE RIGHT THING: An Important Reminder

 Donating to Youth Before the End of the Year

 By Doug Abrams

 When I write for publication, I rarely recycle prior articles because fresh perspectives normally serve writers and readers best. The thought process that commits words to paper, said author John Updike, “educates the writer as it goes along.” The writer learns, and readers receive new ideas.

This column violates the “no recycling” rule because it reiterates a message about generosity that I have delivered here in Decembers past. Before the tax year winds down at the end of the month, the message invites readers to consider making modest tax-deductible donations to worthy causes that help improve the lives of children in need.

The Best Judges

Charitable impulse depends, of course, on personal financial circumstances and obligations to the family. Many households receive more charitable solicitations than they can satisfy, and many adults must manage the family budget closely. But in youth sports and elsewhere, adults seeking worthy causes that produce community betterment by serving needy youth do not have far to look.

Their child’s youth sports association, or the local parks and recreation department, may accept financial or in-kind donations toward fees or equipment for families that might otherwise be unable to meet the mounting costs of participation. Private donations may also help deliver state-of-the-art safety equipment such as automated external defibrillators (AEDs), which have saved lives.

National youth sports governing bodies maintain charitable initiatives that promote equal opportunity by reaching out to under-served youth. Because hockey is my sport, the USA Hockey Foundation, maintained by USA Hockey, comes to mind.

A parent or coach concerned about advancing player safety nationally might support leading advocacy and research organizations, such as the MomsTeam Institute of Youth Sports Safety.

Outside the sports arena, the parent or coach might have a favorite national, state, or local charity that focuses on needy youth. For example, children’s hospitals typically encourage donations not only for equipment and other direct medical needs, but also for toys, games, and similar amenities that make hospital stays more bearable for their sick and injured patients. These hospitals serve boys and girls from modest-income or indigent families, and from parents who might temporarily overlook toys and games amid the family dislocation that can accompany sudden hospitalization.

This list is meant to be illustrative, not exhaustive. The salient points are that private philanthropy matters, and that individual adults are the best judges of where their dollars can do the most good.

Filling Buckets

“But would my $25 donation really matter? Or would it simply be a drop in the bucket?”

“Every dollar makes a difference,” says former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, “and that’s true whether it’s Warren Buffett’s remarkable $31 billion pledge to the [Bill and Melinda] Gates Foundation, or my late father’s $25 check to the NAACP.”

In his fable, The Lion and the Mouse more than two thousand years ago, Aesop focused primarily on recipients: “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

In recent years, Maya Angelou reminded us that donations also pay rich dividends to donors: “Among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”

Buckets that collect seemingly small acts of kindness can fill to the brim.

Sources:  University of Missouri Children’s Hospital, Happiness For Health Endowment, http://www.muchildrensgiving.org/priority-happiness-for-health.html (endowed by Doug Abrams).

John Updike, in Encyclopedia of the Essay 868 (Tracy Chevalier ed., 1997); National Philanthropic Trust, Philanthropy Quotes, https://www.nptrust.org/history-of-giving/philanthropic-quotes/

(quoting Bloomberg and Angelou); Aesop, The Lion and the Mouse, Aesop’s Fables: A Classic Illustrated Edition, p. 38 (1990).

 

 

SPORTS PARENTING TRENDS: Revisiting the Most Pressing Issues in Youth and Amateur Sports

Back in June of this year, I did a Sports Edge show in which I asked a fairly simple question about youth sports. And the response was so overwhelming that I promised myself that I would come back to revisit the topic soon.

And today is that day.

What was that question?

What do you think is the biggest issue confronting youth and amateur sports today?

Now, take a moment and think about the headlines that have confronted you as a sports parent or as a coach in the year 2017.

For example, is it concerns about your child suffering concussions in contact sports, like football, soccer, ice hockey, and lacrosse?

Or is it not knowing what’s the right age to have your child specialize in one sport?

What about travel teams – that is, do you feel it’s important to have your kid compete on a travel team…and if so, starting at what age?

Are you concerned about certain travel sports in which the travel program says that your youngster will ultimately have to choose between playing for their local HS varsity team or their travel team?

In fact, what about the overall impact of travel teams – do you feel that they are gradually eroding or supplanting traditional HS varsity sports? Many point to the European model in which schools do not offer any sports at all; that is, if your son or daughter wants to play sports, they play for an outside, or club, team.

And what about the rising cost and expense of travel programs? Lots of recent articles point out that travel teams have become the domain of only the wealthy in this country.

Or maybe you’re concerned with the rising reality of so many kids becoming overweight and obese. Experts point to the staggering popularity of video games, or e-games as they are known. Kids love them and can’t seem to get enough of them. Obviously, having kids sit in front of a video screen doesn’t do much for their physical conditioning.

What about the rise in home schooling athletes? I was just reading the other day where a family in Rockland County (NY) home schooled their teenage tennis player. During her junior and senior year of HS, she travelled all over the country,  competing in tournaments and ultimately earned a full scholarship to Rutgers.

Is that kind of approach going to become more and more the norm – especially for those sports which are for the individual as opposed to a team?

 

Or that these days, student-athletes get all sorts of second and third chances when they do something stupid. That is, there’s less and less of a hard focus about kids and their sense of accountability.For example, when do we expect kids to become more aware of social media concerns?

THE CALLERS CHIME IN

The calls this AM on WFAN were both plentiful and meaningful. One caller said that with the continuous rising cost of college these days, sports parents are more focused than ever on having their athlete garner an athletic scholarship. Even though it was pointed out that very few colleges offer full rides for sports other than football and basketball, parents still focus on having their child try to reach that goal.

Another caller did think that more and more school districts will gradually phase out sports, simply because the better athletes in the HS are playing for an outside travel team, and the rising costs of running a traditional varsity sports program won’t be worth it.

Another fan of the show pointed out that young athletes these days face a lot more pressure than athletes did in the past. Kids as young as 6 or 7 are feeling compelled to make a travel team, and that kind of pressure tends to drive kids away from sports. Maybe that explains that kids today feel a sense of obligation to try out, rather than develop a true sense of passion or joy for playing the sport.

I ran out of time this AM to ask this ultimate question: what kind of sports parents will our kids become when they become parents and we’re grandparents?

Will they want their kids to specialize early in a sport? Will they still want their kids to play on travel teams? Or will we experience a kind of backlash from all of this; that is, that our kids will let their children (our grandchildren) pretty much go out and play sports on their own?

Only time will tell.

TRENDS IN SPORTS: What Parents Need to Know about Youth Hockey

I really can’t recall the last time I did a WFAN show on the sport of youth and travel team hockey. Which is curious, because for years, ice hockey was the poster child for everything that was wrong about over-the-top and obnoxious sports parents…concerns about a kid’s playing time…travel team tryouts…the expense of travel team play…concussion worries….and on and on.

But the good news is that instead of trying to downplay or deny that these were real concerns, USA Hockey  — the governing body of youth and amateur hockey in this country –  stepped up and started to address these issues head on. And they did so with a sense of real commitment.

Unlike some other national youth sports organizations, which have either shunned critically important issues or stuck their head in the sand, USA Hockey has become a real leader when it comes to putting its priorities in order.

To that end, I asked Mike Bonelli, who has been involved in youth hockey for years and is the East District Coach in Chief for USA Hockey in NY (covering Long Island, Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess counties) since 2012 and oversees the education for over 900 coaches each year in that district to be guest this AM to talk about the proactive approach of USA Hockey. Here were a few of the highlights:

1 – A reminder that fighting in all youth, HS, and travel team hockey is strictly forbidden.

Too many NHL games are still marred by fights on the ice. Players drop their gloves and bang away at each other like prize fighters until they run out of steam. Problem is, the number of these players who suffer serious concussions from these confrontations continues to grow, and unfortunately, they too often lead to mental issues and presumably the build-up of CTE in their brains. Dementia and even suicide has become too common with these players who make their living with their fists instead of their skates.

Bonelli emphasized that not only is fighting not allowed in amateur hockey, but that kids grow up these days understanding that if they do get in a fight, they are not only disqualified from that game, but also for the next game and sometimes more games beyond that.

For enthusiastic hockey players, the idea of being banned for a couple of games usually deters them from fighting. That, of course, is a good — and safe — thing.

2 – Let’s talk about travel hockey and tryouts

How does USA Hockey view tryouts for their youth programs….what’s the best way to run these tryouts?

With hockey becoming more popular, most programs DO offer A or B or even in-house teams where kids can continue to play….

In my experience, kids – especially young kids – just want a place where they can get out on the ice, learn skills, and get a chance to play in games – it really doesn’t matter at what level.

Tryouts still exist, but USA Hockey is doing more to give feedback.

As one of the callers said today, tryouts in sports are inevitable. And kids are disappointed if they don’t make the “A” team. But as Mike Bonelli pointed out, USA Hockey does not want kids to walk away. That’s why more and more youth programs are offering B and C teams, and if necessary, house leagues where any kid who has the desire to keep playing hockey can do so.

Just like in other sports, the world of hockey has lots of examples of young players who were cut at an early age but who kept playing and eventually blossomed into a top player. Dom Chara, the 6-9 defenseman, was once cut in his youth league program. But he wanted to keep playing, and along the way, he grew another 10 inches which of course helped.

But more importantly, USA Hockey coaches are encouraged to provide real feedback to young skaters – to let them know what their strengths are, and more importantly, what they need to work on in order to develop. That’s a great plus.

3 – Getting up real early for hockey practice?

It used to be common place for young skaters to have practice and games at 6 AM or earlier. The good news is that’s becoming less and less of a standard routine as more rinks are popping up all over.

Trust me, for any hockey parent who has had to brave frigid temps to drive their kid to a rink in pre-dawn hours, this is very welcome news.

As Mike pointed out, “You don’t do much to encourage kids to play hockey when they have to get up at 5 AM to go to the rink. And the parents don’t like it either.”

 

4 – No need to specialize at an early age.

Turns out that Mike not only played hockey as a kid, but also baseball, soccer, tennis, and so on. As such, while he does believe it’s important for a youngster to learn how to skate at a young age (simply because it’s so much harder to develop that skill later on), it’s always a good idea for a kid to play a variety of sports.

Only when a youngster is around 15 or 16 should he or she start to think about just specializing hockey. We’ve heard the same advice from other coaches in other sports as well, i.e. not need to specialize at too young an age.

I recall a chance encounter with Marcel Dionne, the NHL Hall of Famer, whose son was playing on a mite team with my son some years ago. I asked Marcel about when he was growing up in Canada, did he play hockey all year round, which many hockey parents still think is the right path for their kid.

Marcel looked at me and patiently explained in his French Canadian accent that “In the fall we played either football or soccer, then in winter we played hockey, and then in the spring, we played baseball. Nobody played hockey all year round.”

5 – A sport for life.

One last note. Of all the sports, there’s something about ice hockey that seems to attract players for their entire lives. Whether it’s the thrill of going fast on the ice, or of handling the puck, or just playing pond hockey with your buddies on a cold wintry day, there’s something about this sport in particular that keeps players coming back for years and years.

It’s hard to explain why, but anyone who has played ice hockey just seems to get that bug into their veins and it lasts for a lifetime. My son John is 34 and has been skating for most of his life. In fact, I have a sense he’s going to keep skating for the next 34 years of his life.

 

 

DANGERS OF CONCUSSIONS: How State Laws Are Mandating Adult Education on This Important Issue

A New Study on Adult-Education Mandates In State Concussion Laws

By Doug Abrams

 Between 2009 and 2014, amid heightened public awareness about the serious consequences of concussions suffered in youth sports, every state and the District of Columbia enacted laws designed to promote prevention and treatment of these traumatic brain injuries. Such legislative unison is rare in today’s partisan times that divide blue states and red states, but this flurry demonstrates public support for effective measures designed to make life better for the nation’s youngest athletes.

Legislatures enact standards to govern events and circumstances as they occur in the future. Recognizing that legislation is inherently predictive, prudent legislators monitor operation of their enactments to help assure that standards will work as anticipated, and to consider amendments in light of experience. In prominent matters such as youth sports concussions, laws once enacted remain works in progress.

In the December issue of the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), researchers published a study indicating that the recent state concussion laws are already fulfilling one of their primary missions — educating adults and players about prevention and treatment. After surveying these laws, this column discusses the early signs of the positive effects of this education. The column concludes by discussing the role of concussion education in guiding parents toward an informed decision about a matter not directly raised in the AJPH study, whether to permit their child to play a particular contact or collision sport at all.

State Concussion Laws              

Between 2009 and 2014, every state and the District of Columbia enacted statutes concerning traumatic brain injury in youth competition. By that time, leading voices were calling youth sports concussions “a true health crisis” and a “matter of public health.” Time reported the emerging medical consensus: “Concussions are an alarmingly commonplace injury, particularly among kids and most particularly among active, athletic ones.” With the stakes so high, said CNN chief medical correspondent, neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta, “we owe it to our . . . kids . . . to make them as safe as we know how to do, and we can do a lot better than we have been doing.”

The various state concussion laws show differences at the outer edges, but the laws share three common directives. First, nearly all these laws require that before each season, state education departments or local boards of education provide parents, coaches, administrators, and players with information and education about the nature and dangers of concussions, about how to recognize symptoms of potential brain trauma, and about how to help insure healthy recovery. Some of the statutes contemplate provision of written educational materials, and others specify face-to-face group presentations.

Second, most of the laws require that coaches immediately remove from a practice session or game any player who is suspected to have suffered a concussion.  Third, most of the laws require that the player may not return to action until a physician or other licensed medical professional clears the player and affirms that return is medically appropriate.

 The Beneficial Effect of Concussion Education

The new AJPH study found a significant nationwide increase in reports of new and recurrent youth sports concussions for the first two and a half years or so after the state laws went into effect. The research team concluded that the immediate increase “may be attributable to greater recognition and reporting of concussions by athletic trainers or athletes following implementation of concussion education requirements of these laws, rather than increased number of injuries.” The research team reasoned that mandatory education has “improved coaches’, athletic trainers’, parents’, and students’ knowledge of concussion signs and symptoms.”

Concussion Education and Parental Prerogatives

The AJPH study focused on the evident effects of parent education in preventing and treating concussions among youth leaguers. But this education may also play a central role in a parent’s decision whether to permit a child to enroll in a particular contact or collision sport in the first place. For example, youth football enrollment rates have fallen noticeably in many localities, while other parents educated about the risks and rewards of participation decide to enroll their children. Either way, parental choice here is a parent’s prerogative.

Quoted in Sports Illustrated this summer, Dr. Bennett Omalu said that no child should play football. “Someday,” he predicted, “there will be a district attorney who will prosecute for child abuse, and it will succeed.” He called youth football “the definition of child abuse.”

Dr. Omalu is trailblazer in raising public awareness and concern about concussions in football and other sports, but I believe he is wrong about child abuse. There is no room for prosecuting parents for allowing their child to enroll in youth-league or school football. The Constitution guarantees parents broad discretion to raise their children, so the law requires a strong showing to defeat parental decision making. Football safety concerns are real and medical experts and safety advocates should continue to speak out to educate parents and players. Parents commit no crime, however, when they decide to allow their child to play the nation’s most popular professional and amateur sport.

A child endangerment prosecution might be appropriate if, for example, parents expose their football player to specific health or safety consequences during play, such as by coaxing him to play with a concussion or other serious injury. But the initial enrollment decision depends on the parents’ informed judgment, backed by the sort of educational outreach mandated by the states’ new concussion laws and by educational commentary and reports widely available in the broadcast and print media.

 

Sources: Jingzhen Yang et al., New and Recurrent Concussions in High-School Athletes Before and After Traumatic Brain Injury Laws, 2005-2016, American Journal of Public Health, vol. 107 (Dec. 2017); Douglas E. Abrams, Confronting the Youth Sports Concussions Crisis: A Central Role for Responsible Local Enforcement of Playing Rules,  Mississippi Sports Law Review, vol. 2, p. 75 (2013); Lyle J. Micheli, Foreword, in William Paul Meehan III, Kids, Sports, and Concussion: A Guide for Coaches and Parents xi (2011) (“[a] true health crisis”); Alan Schwartz, High School Players Shrug Off Concussions, Raising Risks, N.Y. Times, Sept. 15, 2007, at A1 (quoting Dr. Robert Sallis, president of the American College of Sports Medicine); Jeffrey Kluger, Headbanger Nation, Time (Feb. 3, 2011); Tackling the Dangers of Concussions, Daily News of L.A., Jan. 26, 2012, at L1 (quoting Dr. Gupta); Scooby Axson, “Concussion” Doctor: Letting Kids Play Football is “Definition of Child Abuse,” Sports Illustrated, https://www.si.com/nfl/2017/08/08/bennet-omalu-cte-football  (Aug. 8, 2017); Brooke de Lench, Letting Kids Play Football is Not Child Abuse, http://www.momsteam.com/blog/brooke-de-lench/letting-kids-play-football-not-child-abuse (Aug. 14, 2017).

 

ACCOUNTABILITY WITH ATHLETES: What’s the Right Punishment for the 3 UCLA Hoopsters Caught Shoplifting in China?

Here’s a pop quiz for you.

What’s the appropriate punishment for the three freshman UCLA basketball players who were caught shoplifting in China?

Now, they all said the right things at their recent televised press conference…that they will learn from this experience….that they apologize…and what they did was not who they really are – not the way they were brought up.

They even thanked the President and the United States Government.

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GETTING CUT FROM A TEAM: What Parents — and Coaches – Need to Know

FOR THE PARENT….

I want to discuss difficult moments in an athlete’s life when – as the Mom or Dad – you find yourself on the spot to have to say the right thing – to find the precise words – to talk with your son or daughter when things aren’t going their way.

We’re talking about key or crucial conversations – and every sports parent has them.

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ATHLETIC DIRECTORS: Why are So Many HS AD’s Calling it Quits?

On last Sunday’s radio show, I asked whether the time has finally come to seriously think about walking away from traditional HS varsity sports programs.

I asked that question because so many talented and gifted coaches have become tired and worn out by the endless number of sports parents who confront them about their kid’s lack of playing time, or not being given certain awards, or just not getting enough attention from the coach. And these coaches just decide that as much as they enjoy working with young kids, it’s just not worth their time and emotional effort to deal with their Moms and Dads. And so, the HS coaches quit- and many of them go off to work for club or travel programs.

In other words, having to deal with meddlesome parents has become the tipping point for coaches.

But as it turns out, it’s not just HS coaches who are throwing in the towel. It’s also more and more HS Athletic Directors who have found that their jobs have only become more complicated and more time-consuming in recent years, so much so that they, too, are walking away from the stress and strain.

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PARENTS V. COACHES: Still the Biggest Issue in Youth and Amateur Sports Today – and Getting Worse

If there is one trend in youth and amateur sports that continues to rise in this country, it’s the issue of more and more HS coaches leaving the ranks. No matter where you live, whether it’s in New York, California, Texas, Florida, Maine, or any of the states in between, the rate at which HS coaches are resigning their jobs has become an alarming epidemic.

What’s the reason for the mass exodus?

The answer is pretty simple.

Parents.

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